Road Schooling: Lessons from Traveling with the Kids

Rainer Jenss is the founder of Smart Family Travel and has been recognized as one of the Top 25 Family Travel Bloggers by As a Family-Travel Correspondent for AFAR, he’ll be posting Highlights and Wanderlists from his family travels.

Four years ago, my wife and I did something many people dream about, but very few ever act on. We packed our bags, put our possessions and careers in storage, and hit the road to travel around the world. We would eventually visit 28 countries before landing back in New York to resume our lives, forever changed by the experience.

If this sounds like an extreme way to satisfy an acute case of wanderlust, consider that we also took our two young boys (ages 8 and 11) along for the ride. Yes, that meant taking them out of school for a year and separation from their lives dominated by sports, friends, and video games. And we all survived.

Traveling with children—whether it’s for an entire year or just for a spring break—presents parents with a whole lot more than just the opportunity to spend quality time together. Children are incredibly curious at a young age and are quite interested in trying new things. Traveling to new places is an invitation to learn and develop new life skills. Surfing lessons in Hawaii will help build confidence; horseback riding can create a lifelong love for animals and the great outdoors. How about cooking lessons in Italy? No need to tell you what that might inspire!

One of the primary reasons we chose to take a yearlong sabbatical with our kids was to enhance their education; to help them learn things no classroom could ever teach them. We believed that giving them this opportunity, especially at a young age, would provide a foundation of understanding and appreciation for the world that they would carry with them for the rest of their lives. After all, a formal education is meant to prepare children to successfully navigate their way through life; what else does that better than travel?

We all want our children to excel academically. One surefire way to improve their chances for success is to get them more engaged and interested in what they’re being taught. Science: Check out the glaciers at Yellowstone, hike a volcano in Hawaii, or snorkel in the Caribbean or the Great Barrier Reef. History: Visit Colonial Williamsburg, vacation in Rome, or tour Egypt. Social Studies: How about China, India, or, of course, Washington, D.C.

These experiences will certainly form special connections and memories. Making sure the kids have a camera and getting them involved in photography will not only capture those moments for posterity, it just might expose an artistic side kids love so much to express. It happened to my son!

So the next time you contemplate whether taking your child out of school to go on a family trip is compromising their education, maybe take a moment to consider what they’ll be missing out on if you didn’t.

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